Never judge a book by its cover. Looking at the title, King of the World, with its photograph of Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr./Muhammad Ali, I assumed it was a biography.
It isn't. Jumping to my next conclusion I thought it was a book about the "sweet science;" it isn't. Okay, maybe it's a tell-all about the seamy side of the boxing 'business.
' It's not. This book is actually about all of these things but much, much more. Rather than write a biography, David Remnick has given us a moment in time.
King of the World covers three years in the life of Clay/Ali, but more importantly it covers the political climate in the United States, including the belief system held by the majority of the public regarding African Americans during the mid 1960s. Remnick goes into some detail about Ali's private live, including his religious conversion, his connection with Malcolm X, and his brief marriage to and divorce from Sonji Roi. He lets us in behind-the-scenes on some sports-writers, as well as on Norman Mailer, Angelo Dundee (Clay/Ali's trainer), and the bout between world champion Floyd Patterson and contender Sonny Liston. His primary focus, however, is on Clay/Ali's fight with Liston after Liston defeated Patterson.
Remnick does not shy away from discussing the shadowy history of the boxing world (no pun intended). It's well known boxing has been affiliated with the 'mob,' but perhaps what is lesser known is Clay's absolute refusal to be in any way associated with the Mafia. What is truly intriguing about this book, however, is Remnick's ability to look beyond the boxing ring to what is really going on. He knows there's more to this game than meets the eye and it is this knowledge and his ability to record it that make this book important. Rem-nick lets us in on what it's like to be a boxer (read: man), and more importantly, a black boxer in the United States in the mid '60s.
He tells us how the media aided and abetted the perpetuation of the stereotype as to what was a 'good' black man (i.e., why Patterson was preferred over Liston in their bout). This preference for Patterson was a good barometer of the political climate at that time in the US.
Patterson was a quiet, co-operative, ever-accommodating man. The press liked him because he "knew his place," was always polite, and 'did the right thing.' On the other hand, Liston had a criminal record, spoke his mind and was never apologetic. To give a couple of examples of how far-reaching this per-ception of how black men 'should act' was, Remnick tells us the President of the US National Boxing Association was so against "someone like Liston" fighting a championship fight he told the press he would do all he could to prevent a match between them: "In my opinion, Patterson is a fine representative of his race, and I believe the heavyweight champion of the world should be the kind of man our children could look up toif Liston should become championit might well be a catastrophe." The Manhattan chapter head.